‘I wanted to create every frame in a magical way’

‘I wanted to create every frame in a magical way’

By SWATI SINGH | | 10 March, 2018
Filmmaker Aleya Sen with the cast of her directorial debut, Dil Juunglee.
The prolific ad filmmaker, Aleya Sen is making her first directorial debut with Dil Juunglee. The 38-year-old filmmaker talks to Guardian 20 about her journey from ad filmmaking to cinema, and her experience of working with the star cast of her upcoming film.

Q. Tell us about your journey as an ad filmmaker?

A. For me, it started when I was very young because my father was from an advertising background. So I was very close to understanding advertising and how it works at a very young age. Also, I went to an art college and straight after my college, I joined Pradeep Sarkar [writer and director]. From there I went on to start my company at a very young age. It was in 2005 when I started Chrome Pictures [production house]. So that, in short, is my journey as an ad filmmaker.

Q. Dil Juunglee is your first directorial project. How did it actually happen?

A. I wrote Dil Juunglee when I was doing advertising and it was in a very fun way, because, like from the trailer as one can make out, it’s a slice of life. It is my understanding of what love is, about relationships and friends and things like that. I wrote that script with my sister and a writer friend, Shiv. We would jam and we would write, and all these characters are from my real life. So when we ended up writing it, the only way out was that I just had to make it. And that’s how Dil Juunglee happened.

Q. How was your experience of shooting the movie?

A. This experience is something that I cannot compare with anything else, because it’s my first film. So when I started off, except for the technical aspect of making a film, it was all a different ball game altogether. And because I had written the film, it is so close to my heart… So my experience has been pretty magical.

Q. You have worked with Taapsee Pannu and Saqib Saleem earlier, for the music video of “Tum Ho Toh Lagta Hai”. When did it occur to you that these actors were just perfect for your directorial debut?

A. Most of the cast and crew of the video were from Delhi when I shot the video. So when I was doing the song with them I saw them bonding and I thought that they were friends since a very long time. It’s only when I was coming back that Saqib [Saleem] casually told me they had just met on the sets of the music video. I understand what is professional bonding and the ease actors have in front of the camera. But even off camera they [Saqib and Taapsee] had some amazing natural bonding as friends and they had a lovely chemistry while shooting the video. So I wanted to transform it into my film. And thought they were just perfect for it. And in fact, within a month, we were at the set of our film.

Q. Do you think that star power is important when it comes to making films?

A. Probably it didn’t cross my mind as such because, like I said, this is my first film, this is my entry into Bollywood. Of course, I aspire to work with a lot of great actors and stars, but when it came to making the film, I never had inhibitions—my first choice was to get actors who would suit the characters. So star power, yes, of course, when it comes to the box office, it does matter a lot. It has an impact on the production front of your film as well. But if you can have your way around and be true to your subject, then I think it’s different. We are seeing a lot of changes that Bollywood has come up with in the recent past, too. 

“This is my first film, this is my entry into Bollywood. I aspire to work with a lot of great actors and stars, but when it came to making the film, I never had inhibitions—my first choice was to get actors who would suit the characters.”

Q. What were the challenges you came across while directing Dil Juunglee?

A. I think the shift from advertising to feature was challenging for me. Firstly, to find someone who truly believes and is convinced with the story you have written, especially when it’s a love story, is something I believe is a big deal to crack. And in my case, I am fortunate it happened at one go.

Q. What is the difference between directing an ad film and a feature film? And which do you enjoy doing more?

A. Advertising has been with me for too long. I love making ads, I love the precision and detailing that goes into creating that one frame. When you make a 30 seconder, you’re telling a story. And you’re trying to touch the chords in a very short span of time. There is a lot of detailing that goes into making it and that’s the only way I know how to make a film. I think it has transformed in similar ways in my feature as well. Every frame, every moment I felt I should create in a magical way. So, I don’t have a choice, when it comes to liking one better over the other. Both are different in their own space, and I would like to pursue both to their limits.

Q. Do you think filmmaking is an art?

A. Yes, most truly. It is an art and it includes every aspect of art. I would like to share a little experience of mine. When I was young—and I am Bengali—and if you know about Bengali families, at a very young age you are sent to music classes, dance classes, theatre classes and it’s not with the intention that you have to become a great classical singer one day, it’s like how you study maths, civics, etc. It’s a part of your upbringing. And of course, at that age, coming back from school and going to these classes was not very desirable. I did fine arts also in college. But as I grew up and came into this line I guess by default, having been part of all this study of arts, things come very naturally to me, whether it is colours, whether it is an understanding of how picturesque a frame should look.  And it even goes on to the post-production part, about sound, visual aspects—I am very particular about these. So yes, filmmaking is an art, and not to leave out the most important part, which is telling a story.

Q. Some female directors have often talked about the prejudices they have faced in the film industry. How has your experience been so far? 

A. I started out quite early. I started when I was 20, in Delhi. I feel that because I learned everything on set, therefore it never occurred to me. I thought this is exactly the way it has to be or is meant to be. Once I had this lady who came up to me and said, “It’s so nice to see a woman controlling 200 men on the road.” So that’s when I realised that I have been quite fortunate. I feel that my gender may have crossed other people’s mind but not mine. Because I was way too busy just trying to create what I wanted to. Having said that, since filmmaking has a production part of it, maybe sometimes you just have to be a little careful, but if you have a good setup, these are things that can be easily taken care of. But yes, every director has their own journey, every woman has her own journey in her career. So it’s different for every person, I guess.

Q. Do you want to offer any advice to young filmmakers?

A. Well, I think the younger generation is very smart and their understanding of career and their choice of wanting to do something starts at a very young age. If at all there is any advice then it would be that understand your self-worth, and there are times when it takes a little longer than you expect, because the younger generation is a bit impulsive and impatient, and they just are in this fast-forward mode. Not to blame them—it is the exposure, and how our society is right now.


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